The Sarjeant Gallery is bringing to life 30 years of work produced by Maori clay artist Wi Taepa through his latest exhibition.

From stoneware clay to anagama fired red raku clay, the show has five distinct sections each with a different style and history to it.

Taepa said the retrospectives of his work showing how it has evolved over the years has an underlying narrative of "tika tikanga".

"All vessels, all hold stories and everything is about bringing it all together, making something of it," he said.


A uniqueness is lent to Taepa's work by tools he uses - such as a nail instead of a chisel for carving.

Taepa said a nail was the first thing Maori obtained from Captain Cook on his arrival so Taepa decided to get a nail and bend it into a hook to make a carving tool.

"With carving, it's a pushing motion whereas with all my work it's a pulling motion
and it's got to do with showing hihi - that is a hook that comes from women's scarification of themselves during burial to show their grief for their husbands," he said.

Wi Taepa with another of his ceramic works. Photo / Supplied
Wi Taepa with another of his ceramic works. Photo / Supplied

His work has also been influenced by unique people he has met during his lifetime and the places he has been such as Africa and the Pacific.

"All those sorts of things remind me of those people, by doing it in my work they'll never ever be left behind," he said.

As a child, Taepa says, he was always making things and his parents realised at age 5 he would be an artist.

The Porirua-based artist also attended intermediate school in Whanganui where his art teacher saw his potential.

Now a Master of Maori Visual Arts, he is the only member of his family who did not gain School Certificate or University Entrance but he continued to follow his artistic path.


In 1978 in a return to Whanganui while on a course, he met his soon to be mentor George Kojis and after their first encounter he decided to begin his clay artist career.

"I attended summer schools in Whanganui that brought out a whole lot of artists in New Zealand so I was working with the best of the best in the field or ceramicists and painters and more," said Taepa.

For 10 years, Taepa was an artist of residence in Whanganui and in 1999, Bill Millbank, who at the time was the director of the Sarjeant Gallery, purchased a piece from Taepa called Ipu Waka.

The piece still sits in the gallery and means a lot to Taepa.

"My very first expo was created by his wife Raywen and when I came in the door and saw my piece it meant a lot to me and what she did for me. I've never forgotten it," he said.

Ruben Friend worked alongside the Sarjeant Gallery to bring the exhibition to Whanganui from June 22 to October 13.